Passing cars honked in support of Ditch the Ditch advocates who gathered Tuesday afternoon outside the Mile High United Way offices at 711 Park Avenue West.
Inside the building, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was meeting with Mayor Michael Hancock and his team to hear Denver's Smart City Challenge proposal.
Denver is one of seven finalists in the Department of Transportation contest. The challenge winner could be awarded as much as $50 million to upgrade the city's transportation network by integrating such innovative technologies as driverless cars, smart sensors and connected vehicles.
The demonstrators weren't really protesting, despite their "Ditch the Ditch" and "Let the community meet with Foxx" signs. Their goal was to let Foxx know that there's opposition to the controversial, $2 billion I-70 corridor expansion project.
"We're just here to try and bring some attention by the secretary to the issue of the expansion of I-70," said Candi CdeBaca, a Swansea resident and founder of Cross Community Coalition. "[Denver] is a finalist for the Smart City grant, and that's really just a value mismatch with what they are currently doing with I-70."
The grant is all about "innovative, forward-thinking and creative alternatives to what we have to improve transportation and connection," she noted — but she feels that the plan to transform the I-70 corridor is using "antiquated solutions," the kind of thinking that Foxx has spoken out against in the past.
Denver may brand itself as innovative and progressive, but it's one of the least connected cities she has ever been to, CdeBaca said: "It really feels like our administration hasn't stepped out of Colorado since the ’60s."
Steve Kinney, who's been working with Ditch the Ditch, the group fighting the I-70 plan, for about three and a half years, pointed to the Every Place Counts Design Challenge, a DOT program initiated by Foxx. According to the department's site, the challenge "seeks to raise awareness about bifurcated neighborhoods, identify innovative practices to reconnect communities, and inform the transportation life cycle."
In an April 28 NPR story, Foxx talked about riding his bike and growing up in a neighborhood outside Charlotte, North Carolina, that was divided from the city by an interstate.
"It was a minority, low-income neighborhood, and that's what happens all too often. These minority, low-income neighborhoods is where they put these freeways," Kinney said.
Ditch the Ditch advocates want to see CDOT study another option that would reroute I-70 to 270 and I-76 and turn the current stretch of I-70 into a boulevard similar to Speer. See that option in a video on view below.
"We think that Secretary Foxx's Every Place Counts Initiative is very much supporting our position," Kinney said, "which is that we need to get the freeway out of the neighborhoods and ideally widen 270 and 76, and then create a grand boulevard."
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Kinney said he hopes that Representative Diana DeGette, who represents the area in Congress, will make a formal request for Foxx to return to Denver so that he can tour the neighborhood, see the reroute option, and meet some of the people living in the areas most affected by the I-70 project.
Here's the aforementioned Ditch the Ditch-supported video.